On an October weekend in 1974, French novelist Georges Perec was busy noticing all the things others spend a lifetime not paying attention to: Passing buses, slants of light and the way pigeons swoop in unison, as if they’re on their way somewhere important and not just about to shit all over the front steps of a church. Twenty-plus years before Seinfeld would make a show about nothing, Perec wrote the book on it: An Attempt At Exhausting A Place In Paris.
On a May weekend in 2021, an ocean, a lifetime and a global pandemic away from Perec, I can’t stop thinking about his 47-page list of everything mundane that crosses his field of vision from the same cafe that weekend—something he referred to as the “infra-ordinary”, like passing pedestrians and cars.
It’s because, over a year into this pandemic and three weeks (and counting) into the Halifax lockdown that came with the third wave here in Nova Scotia, I’m no longer just lonely for my dad, my favourite restaurant or even the now-foreign idea of a Thursday night spent wandering around the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. I’m lonely for the sorts of things that I didn’t know it was possible to be lonely for. I miss the small strands that weaved into the fabric of my life before, even—perhaps especially—when they were the sorts of threads that felt invisible at the time.
I miss live music. I know I’m not special in that or alone in it. The arts sector was the first to have to go on hold and will be the last to come back, as makers, organizers and venues keep reminding us.
But I don’t just miss the thrill of the band coming back onstage for an encore, or the opening notes of my favourite song sending a trill of recognition through my body. Perec knew before the rest of us that it was all about the little things, and here is my lonesome song to the infra-ordinary of live music in Halifax:
• I miss the little shimmy-side-step walk you have to take from the front of The Carleton along its corridor bar to the bathrooms at the back—and the way that, if you went for a pee between sets, you were almost always likely to bump into the show opener enroute.
• I miss buying a bag of chips at the corner store and eating them in line outside The Seahorse, because there was no time for a real dinner before the early show (and then later, realizing that punk time means there probably was, after all).
• I miss the feeling of smugness when my friends and I manage to snag the floor space near The Marquee stage where you can lean on that one big metal pole but still see the whole stage.
• I miss the moment when the back of my legs and the fake leather of the chairs at Gus’ Pub would fuse: I sit, knowing it’ll hurt like hell when I stand up, but then I do anyway because my favourite song starts playing and I don’t care about anything else.
• I miss watching the crowd arrive at Bearly’s on a weeknight, like a million strands of dulse washing up on the beach at once. The moment when The Mellotones would break out into some radio-friendly hit like “Uptown Funk” and the tide would carry dozens of bodies to the worn wooden dance floor? Magic.
• I miss killing time till the next ferry to Dartmouth to see some band my friend swears by at Jacob’s Lounge, a headphone in each of our ears while we wait.
• I miss spilling out of The Music Room after a show where you sit reverent, silent, daring not to whisper to who you came with, and feeling your voice return to normal volume while you talk about what you just heard.
• I miss waiting at an empty merch table after a show held at a church, the cathedral ceiling acoustics still vibrating in my brain, as I try to decide if it’s cringe to ask for an autograph or not.
• I miss the house party feeling of a New Scotland Brewing show, how it always feels like everyone else in the room knows each other and I’m melting into a silent anonymity on a bar stool in the back.
• I miss the pins-and-needles anticipatory air that hangs heavy before every Radstorm show: Will the band smash their instruments? Will they mosh into the crowd? It is the sort of place where anything can happen—and often does.
• I miss the feeling of my high heels trying to grip the granite-feeling slabs that are the steps of the Dal Arts Centre, a strong stride to get to the Rebecca Cohn before curtain time to see the show I scraped fare together for.
There’s salt on my lips. My ears are ringing. The night is over. When will I get to go back?